Not Happy About the Happiness Advantage

I started two books at pretty much the same time, both about improving performance. The thesis of Peak is that deliberate practice is the path to success. The thesis of The Happiness Advantage is that happiness is the path to success. The books aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Maybe both are important components.

Unfortunately, only one of the books succeeded in building a good case. Peak did a nice job of laying out the research base for its conclusions and pointing out the limitations of that research base. I gave up on The Happiness Advantage a third of the way through.

The example in the book that finally threw me off the edge was a study that the author pointed to that demonstrated the power of mind over body. The dramatic example he cites is a study from Japan where researchers rubbed poison ivy on one arm of subjects and fake poison ivy on the other but told subjects the opposite. Subjects tended to physically react to the fake poison ivy and not the real poison ivy.

That’s really fascinating, and my first reaction is a need to learn more. The source was a New York Times article from the late 90s. The Times article itself gave no source. A search on Google Scholar produced no results.

To be clear, the study may exist and the effect may be true (though I doubt it). But author Shawn Achor, an academic from Harvard, failed to cite an original source, which means at best he was sloppy, and at worst he’s taking the Times article at face value without any effort to view it critically. What was the methodology? Has it been replicated?

Sloppy or lazy, he lost my trust, so it was no longer worth reading.


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